Do youth ministers make you nervous?

by Andy Hansen 

Do young youth ministers, especially those fresh out of Bible College, make you nervous … especially if you are an Elder?

Well, I was that guy as a 20-year-old long blonde-haired recent graduate. As a matter of fact, when the church hired me, I hadn’t even graduated yet. I did grow up in a church, attended local Christian camp & CIY faithfully, and served as a weekend youth minister for a couple of years. However, “seasoned” did not apply to me! One of my saving graces was my sweet wife Marcia – everyone wanted to have her on stage to sing special music for Sunday services!

As one who wasn’t even sure youth ministry was his calling, this was definitely a grand experiment! Gratefully, it turned into an incredible 10-year experience of calling youth to Jesus and building a youth ministry system within the church. As a young church plant, I guess you could say we grew up together.

Honestly, though, I never would have made it except that I had a Senior Minister who was in my corner, other people twice my age who signed on to serve as youth coaches, parents who were encouraging, and an Eldership which was clearly supportive. In fact, three elders served in the youth ministry all the years I partnered with them to teach and model God’s word to the children and teens in the church.

Thirty-five years later, I can still tell you the names of Elders whose walk with Jesus influenced me. Yes, I could realistically also tell you some of their flaws (as they certainly could tell stories about mine), but overall they left a positive spiritual mark on my life.

One specific Elder was Ted Hammond. He was an exceptional businessman and salesman who created a major company from scratch though he never went to college and, for a while, sold shoes door to door. He had a big grin and a twinkle in his eye, and a soft spot for an optimistic yet green youth minister (he often asked me how many times I used the word “exciting” or “excited” each day ).

He allowed me to drive his new deluxe station wagon with six young people and a sponsor to a Bible Bowl tournament back in the day. I really did pay attention and drove fairly conservatively. However, when a car suddenly stopped in front of us, even though I really hit the brakes, there was this sickening feeling as the car (loaded with 8 bodies) just kept moving forward until there was a little contact with the other car.

After examining both vehicles, we saw a small crease in the very nose of the Hammond station wagon. I just felt sick. It was a miserable tournament as I knew later that evening I would have to show my Elder what had happened to his vehicle.

To my great relief, he really didn’t react much at all, was glad we were safe, etc. The next day, on Sunday, he did call me out to the parking lot after the service with a stern look on his face. I really thought, “This is it! He’s going to let me have it! I’m going to lose my job!” At that moment Ted whirled around and pointed to the crease in the nose of his station wagon – which now had an oversized band aid applied to it! Ted immediately doubled over in laughter and came up gasping and with tears in his eyes! I was dumbfounded, forgiven, and made fun of for a while (though he did allow me to drive the car again).

A couple of years later, our church sponsored what we called a “State-Wide Rally.” There were only half a dozen Christian Church youth ministers in the state of Michigan, but the little regional youth rallies

were dying out. So, we programmed a weekend event and invited all the churches in the state to come. To our shock, over 400 attended and packed out our church facility. To get to the next level and rent a high school facility, promote and build the program, bring in special talented guests, etc., would take capital that our youth budget couldn’t sustain. We were stuck. We could stay the same, fade away, or find some other way.

That led to lunch with Ted Hammond. As his sparkling eyes focused in on me with a slight grin, it’s as if he knew why I wanted this lunch (and to this day I believe he really did)! Mumbling and bumbling about the dream for this event and how we just didn’t have the capital to move forward, he graciously spoke up during a pause and said, “Just tell me what you need.” I explained the need for a loan of $5,000 to get us to the next level, and how with the projected numbers of attendance we could pay him back in two years.

Ted not only supplied the loan, he helped me craft a “business plan” (I had never heard of this in Bible College) and allowed me to use one of his business numbers for free to call all the Christian Churches in the state to promote the event. Within a couple of years, the Michigan State Wide Rally was running over 1,200 and located in the nicest high school in Western Michigan. This rally even continues today! And by the way, Ted donated the payment check for the loan back to the ministry.

What actions do you observe, what gifts of expression did Ted Hammond as an Elder provide to this young youth minister?

Words that come to mind to me: grace, encouragement, forgiveness, relationship, laughter, belief, training, generosity, coming along side to take a ministry risk, accountability, mentorship, friendship.

Does your Eldership have such contact and interaction with the staff at your church?

I know our mantra is “Staff Led, Elder Oversight” … but I wonder if we have too easily faded the influence of the Elders of the church out of the lives and ministry of her staff?

I asked a number of youth ministers to respond to several questions concerning their Eldership, and here are their responses with a few observations.

Feel free to highlight key words or concepts and discuss your observations with your fellow elders.

  1. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE ELDER AND WHY?
  • Rod is involved in serving as a greeter at church and in the community of our campus. He invites his neighbors to church. Rod is a huge encourager and we respect and look up to him.
  • Keith serves in our youth ministry as a driver, cook, small group leader and helps with anything.
  • Geoffrey was with me in youth ministry for seven years as his kids went through the ministry. He randomly calls to check in and pray for me and my family.
  • Micah is wise beyond his years. He is good at waiting to make a big decision and is not afraid to be honest.
  • Geoffrey spends time investing in me, checking in on me and my family, and has pushed me to invest in student ministry.
  • Nick sees the need to move in new directions for the sake of the church. He supports our ideas/vision and gives us full trust.
  • Rick uses his spare time to visit members of the church and cares for people. He seeks people out. I go to him for advice because he is wise and understanding. Trust is so huge for the relationship between youth minister and elder.
  • I really trust Craig’s judgment. He’s a quiet guy and a good listener. He advocates for all of our staff.
  • Sam regularly checks up on me. He spends time talking to me abut my hopes and dreams.
  • Jon is so committed to the mission and vision of the church, and very transparent. He spiritually provides conversation, leadership and support.
  • Greg is an optimist that believes God is going to do even bigger things in the church! He is always encouraging and uplifting. Greg celebrates even the smallest wins!
  • Richard is so approachable, and full of wisdom and love.
  • Jon intentionally encourages us by sending cards, randomly stopping by the office to chat – asking how we are doing and listens for what he can pray for.
  • Rick has his own company, but when a family in our church experienced tragedy while he was out of town for business, he drove 11 hours round trip in one day to be there to minister to the family.
  • Jim is a great listener – he cares about the mental health of the staff. He also is willing to take challenging and uncomfortable steps to move the church forward.

Review your “highlights” and discuss the top five key words or concepts you discovered with your fellow Elders!

What two or three attitudes or actions can you consistently demonstrate to the staff as an Elder?

Personal Thought Question: What staff member would list you as their favorite Elder?

In today’s growing churches, it can be hard to minister to every staff member, and there is much focus on management and prayer with the executive leadership. However, could an Elder or two focus on the Children and Youth Ministers of the church as a focused portion of their responsibility?

  1. HOW OFTEN DO YOU MEET WITH THE ELDERS FORMALLY?
  • I meet with our Youth Elder once a month. I don’t really meet with the other Elders.
  • Never formally, informally, probably every other week (calls/texts/prayer/meals/disk golf).
  • Never formally, informally, probably once or twice a year.
  • Never formally. Two or three times I went to eat with an Elder in the last three years just to check in with me.
  • I meet with my Elder liaison for lunch often. Other Elders get a coffee and check in. Other than giving approval for events and prayer, the current elders don’t have a big role in person with the ministry … at all, really. One elder out of 20 is involved in my ministry.
  • Never formally. Once a week [I meet] with one elder. He lives in my neighborhood.
  • Unfortunately, this has not been a part of my experience as a minister. I have gone to lunch with an elder one time in fifteen years.
  • It is rare for me to formally meet with the elders. Our Senior Pastor and Executive team meet on Wednesday night. Informally, I see them at church and in the community and at the staff Christmas party. I do have a first name relationship with most of them.
  • We used to meet as a staff monthly with the elders, but now just the Senior Minister meets with them. There is an elder assigned to my family and he takes me out to eat once and a while.
  • A couple times formally and maybe 10 times informally a year.
  • Never formally, once or twice a year informally.
  • Never formally. I attend an Elders Meeting once a year to update them on children and youth ministry. The Elders do check in with us during church meeting times, rarely over a lunch or designated time.
  • I’m on the Leadership Team so I meet with them once a month.
  • When the Elders have a question they reach out to me.
  • Just on Sundays when we see each other.
  • I attend Elders meetings once every three months and send a youth report every month. One Elder takes me out twice a year to talk about student ministry.
  • I had a formal meeting with an Elder one time, over lunch. Informally, two are youth coaches and I call and talk with them regularly.
  • I’m in elder’s meetings every month formally. Informally I meet with several of them.
  • At the Staff and Elders Christmas party, and maybe a couple of other times a year.

What are the common denominators you perceive after reviewing the above? How do you believe your Youth / Children’s Minister(s) would respond? Should elders be more involved in the staff? When I was in youth ministry in the 70s & 80s, I often was involved in elder meetings and my wife and I were often in elders’ homes. I had at least two or three elders who were youth coaches whom I met with and bounced off ideas, vision, direction for the youth ministry. Before I ever made a proposal for a new youth ministry concept or need, it was elder tested!

Times have changed. Larger churches have supervisors, team leaders, etc., and the elders have high, over-arching oversight. Pros? Cons?

  1. HOW DO THE ELDERS ACTIVELY SUPPORT, AND HOW COULD THEY DO A BETTER JOB?

Support answers:

  • Prayer
  • Encouraging Texts
  • Notes of Encouragement
  • Serve at Large Youth Events
  • Supportive Budget (scholarship fund to allow students to also earn enough to attend CIY)
  • Willing to Try New Things
  • Give me space to run the ministry without micromanagement.
  • It is obvious they value my opinions and like to be around me when they can.
  • Serve as Trip Leaders, Small Group Leaders
  • Often check in on me and my family.
  • They let me know they are praying for me and the ministry and ask for specific prayer needs.
  • I receive phone calls from elders just to pray for me.
  • Elders ask to attend our youth team meetings occasionally, ask us to share stories of what God is doing and pray with us.
  • One elder is involved in our youth program and he says he is also there to help with encounters from what he affectionately calls “crazy parents.”
  • This is a crazy statement but in almost 15 years at the church I have never been told “no” on any trip or event, perhaps because I haven’t done anything outlandish. Reaching youth is the church’s #1 priority.
  • The elders financially support our summer camps and mission trips where life change takes place.
  • Not sure. The Leadership team and elders for our church are a bit of a closed loop.
  • Allow me to represent and share an overview of youth ministry with all the elders once a year receive feedback, ask questions, etc.
  • Full health care for our family and other benefits.

Review the above list line by line. Which ones could you identify as currently taking place through your eldership? Which ones need to begin … and by whom?

How might elders do a better job?:

  • Show up at events to support and see what is happening. Appreciate they trust us and let us lead, but [they could] be a little more present.
  • Be more aware.
  • It would be huge if one had the passion and gift to actively serve in our student ministry. Perhaps the elders, if not gifted with youth, should add an elder (or groom a potential elder who has children in the youth ministry) who does have that passion. It makes it hard to cast vision to leadership when they are not around to see the implementation of that vision. I’d love to receive more feedback on how to hone my skills. I appreciate the encouraging texts, but showing up is entirely different.
  • I would certainly have benefitted in my early years of youth ministry with direct elder involvement on a regular basis in our high school youth ministry.
  • Ask me what I am reading in the Bible and what is challenging me from Scripture, and share the same with me. Personal spiritual encouragement and guidance are better than technical advice.
  • Have intentional conversations concerning the plans for future youth ministry, what vision we can have as a church for youth ministry.
  • I don’t get to meet much with the elders so I feel a little out of touch as to what the elders are thinking and what they desire to see from the youth ministry. It is good to have the freedom to run the program, but it would be nice to know what you are doing is valued as well.
  • Have a genuine care for me as a person instead of me as an employee of the church.

Do you identify with the ways that Elders are supporting the youth ministry staff and activities? What are a couple of new ideas that you need to implement? How could your elder group do a better job?

  1. IF YOU COULD SHARE SOME ADVICE TO OVER 1,000 ELDERS IN CHURCHES ACROSS THE COUNTRY, WHAT KEY CONCEPTS WOULD YOU SHARE?
  • Be Available. We need accountability and we need support. It has been HUGE for me to have an elder as a safe person to whom I can ask questions, seek advice from, who can hear our thoughts and help us receive direction.
  • Be Prayerful. For the youth ministry, the youth ministers, their families, the youth ministry volunteers, and pray with them for their goals and dreams.
  • Be Financially Supportive. Make youth ministry a priority of the church.
  • Be Celebratory! Find ways to celebrate what is taking place in the youth ministry in front of the church body. Celebrate youth ministry with spoken word and occasional fun gifts when special occasions, accomplishments take place.
  • Be Involved. Lead a small group, drive a vehicle, help cook for a weekend retreat, serve as a sponsor at camp, drop in regularly. “Get your hands dirty and your heart involved so you can attest to what the church (youth ministry) is doing.” Could at least one elder be dedicated to investing their gifts in youth ministry? This way the elders would have the perspective of student ministry from an insider on their team.
  • Be Perceptive. Youth ministries are basically a church operating inside the big church with needs and challenges. Youth ministry changes methodology (not tradition for tradition’s sake), but the message of Christ and the call to Kingdom work should not.
  • Be Present! Stop and chat with us in the hallway, show up to events, drop by the office, have an occasional coffee time, etc. Just a little of this would be helpful for relationship.
  • Be Encouraging but not Micromanaging. Trust the staff you hired, but lovingly give occasional guidance and suggestions.
  • Be Transparent. How are you growing spiritually? What are you struggling with? I need a spiritual leader who is like this in my life whom I can trust to share Scripture with, prayer concepts, seasons of fasting and times of fun, who can speak into my growth and my actions as a parent and spouse.
  • Be Leaders. “Speed of the Leader, Speed of the Team” is also true for the growth and vision of the church. Ask us about our vision and passion for the church, and share with us the direction the leadership envisions. Let us pray for your leadership!
  • Build Unity! This was one of Jesus’ highest passions in His prayers. So much can be accomplished as well as endured if there is a content spirit of unity in the leadership.

I am so grateful I had personal contact and life involvement with the elders when I was a youth minister!

It made youth ministry better, and it for sure molded me and made me a better candidate for long term ministry! Is that taking place in your church? Can that happen today? How could it creatively take place or be improved?

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